December 20, 2014

Samsung Chromebook review (Series 3)

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samsung_chromebook_720

As a blogger, I simply love the idea of the Chrome OS, be it in the form of a Chromebook or Chromebox. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years getting more intimately acquainted with the platform and can now work days on end without sitting down at a traditional PC.

Starting a few years back with the first-ever Chromebook I received at Google I/O and through today, I’ve become enamored with living in the cloud. Whereas I once lived entirely at my office desk and stuck with my Windows-based computer, today I rarely have to turn on the old desktop.

Prologue

With more than 90 percent of my work spent on the Chrombook Pixel you could be right if you called me a tech snob. Indeed, I was hooked on the form factor and that display from the moment I powered on. Upon returning home from San Francisco, I have only used the Series 5 Chromebook on a few occasions. Suffice it to say, the bar was set high with the Pixel.

I was curious as to how the Series 3 (XE303C12) would feel after a few months with the top-of-the-line Chromebook experience. Would the device feel cheap or generic? How would it rate when compared to the first generation?

Intro to Chrome OS

Essentially netbooks that only run  a web-based browser (Chrome), the Chromebook line doesn’t come with a bloated PC feel or any of the non-web stuff that one uses.In other words, there are no CD/DVD drive to be found, and very few ports and plugs to be found. Google has been promoting the Chromebook with increasing rate and you’ve likely seen the commercials touting them as “laptops for everyone”.

I venture to guess that your appreciation of the Chrome OS varies depending on what you do with your computer throughout the average day/week. For those that live on Facebook, email, and websites, you’ll pick things up in no time flat. Those who like to burn CD’s or use memory-intensive apps, you won’t be so quick to come around. The more you rely on installed apps, the less you’ll dig it.

Along the same lines, those of you who have “gone Google” will like Chrome OS and Chromebooks more than those who have not. This is not really a hard rule or anything I can back up, but you’ll understand what I mean if you’ve spent time with the platform.

Indeed, the moment you log in with your Google credentials you are instantly synchronizes with Drive, Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, and more. Got some bookmarks on your Android phone or tablet? You’ll see that stuff here, too, provided you’ve enabled the sync feature.

Chromebook Series 3

Priced at $249, the Samsung Chromebook is not expected to be heavy on hardware. Not to worry, though, as the OS is unique in that performance improves over time. Yes, as Chrome OS gets more optimized and introduces new features, your laptop feels smoother with age.

Having said that, I should point out some of the key hardware details.  The Chromebook XE303C12 comes with an 11.6-inch (1,366×768 ) display, Samsung Exynos 5 Dual 1.7GHz processor, and 16GB SSD storage (plus 100 GB Google Drive Cloud Storage for two years). Additionally, the netbook offers dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, a front-facing VGA camera, 1 USB 3.0 port, 1 USB 2.0 port, HDMI, and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity.

With an average of 8-10 browser tabs open at any given time, the Chromebook performs admirably. Keeping that in mind, your mileage will vary depending on what’s in those tabs. I’ve run into some pretty awesome websites for editing photos, but too many open will sometimes slow things down. Also, if you have tabs with refresh or auto-sync/auto-save enabled then you will run into the occasional stutter.

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Design

The overall design is rather compact and it’s lighter (0.7 inches thin – 2.42 lbs ) than most laptops. The chiclet keyboard is nice and spacious, taking advantage of the real estate. We would like to see a back-list keyboard for low-light conditions, but it’s not a deal-breaker.  Also, it takes some users more time to familiarize with the lack of a CAPS LOCK or DELETE button. Not to worry, however, as there are programmable shortcuts and plug-ins/extensions to help out.

Display

The display is sharp although not a true HD, yet it can still render 1080p videos without much noticeable difference.  Brightness, colors, and overall resolution is on par with expectations and there’s quite a good range of viewing angles.

The touchpad is responsive and you’ll figure out some of the shortcuts with just a few uses; two-finger tap for right-clicking, two fingers swiping to scroll or sweep left and right.

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The bottom-mounted speakers get the job done but they don’t sound quite as clear as we had hoped. Carpet and fabric just about wipe out any clarity and highs; plug in some headphones or external speakers and you’ll be much happier.

Battery

Samsung promises more than 6.5 hours of battery per single charge and we’ve had a hard time refuting this claim. In fact, that’s one area where the Chromebook Pixel could do better. It’s for this reason alone that I’ve not given up on the “lower” end Chromebook models. Should you need to spend an afternoon outside of the office or on a flight, you’ll be just fine.

If you’re on the fence as to whether to buy a Chromebook or tablet for your back-to-school or office needs, you’ll want to weigh your needs. While tablets can be more “fun” with apps and games, the Chromebook is more “practical”.

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I’ve long wanted an Android experience that works as efficiently as the Chromebook but there’s nothing to fill my needs. Much of my day is in WordPress and keeping tabs open and the Android app doesn’t handle input and plug-ins as easily.

Apps and Games

There is an ever-expanding library of apps and games for Chrome devices, many of which have Android/iOS counterparts. Again, your needs will dictate your direction. How much do you care about portability? Do you spend more time in browser tabs and web-based apps or do you play a lot of games?

Conclusion

The great thing about Chromebooks is that they don’t get as “old” as computers do; my first Chromebook runs just as good in 2013 as it did two years ago. My wife and son don’t see any difference in performance in the Series 3 and the Chromebook Pixel; it just looks different on the outside.

Along these lines, you’re not signing any long-term contracts or spending all that much to gamble “wrongly” on the Chromebook. You could do much worse than to purchase one of these for your household, especially if you fight over the tablet or laptop. At $249, the Samsung Chromebooks XE303C12, is not really all that “expensive” to consider. Just a heads up, but we’ve also seen it offered as low as $219 through Amazon.

In our house, the Chromebook has become the only laptop we use and that thick old Windows-based model just collects dust. It doesn’t hurt that our son’s school system has gone Google and uses Chromebooks. He’s able to log in with his own ID and pull up apps and educational games just as he would at school.

For those of you who have spent any length of time with Android and Google services, you’ll take to a Chromebook like a fish to water. The same can be said if your family fights over use of the laptop or tablet. You’d truly be surprised at how much of your life revolves around cloud-based services and in the browser.

NOTE: The Samsung Chromebook we tested was provided to us by Staples



  • Timothy Anderson

    one thing worth mentioning in this review would be the fact that this uses an ARM based processor. You will find useful apps on the chrome store that you cannot use with it. It can be annoying. If I were to get another chrome OS, I would get one with an intel based processor for better compatibility.

  • http://opinadorcompulsivo.blogspot.com Miquel Mayol i Tur

    Acer chromebook x86 based is cheaper and perhaps better than ARM for using the web
    Crouton was not mentioned and probably not tested
    i like some users migrating from MS WOS to Chrome OS but why not trying a Manjaro, with Chrome of course I bet it is a much better experience than Chrome OS

  • Matt

    Have had two of these in the last year, defect makes screens crack and samsung will not admit a defect. Beware

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  • captainkirk

    I am probably going to Best Buy tomorrow to grab one.

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